The New Zealand Festival's 2014 opera was shortish in length, running not too far past an hour, but Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar was a stunning achievement.
Golijov is a hot property on today's music scene, a mixmeister who can call on anything from tangos to turntables.
Ainadamar roved through the spectrum of Latin music, from flamenco and tango to mariachi and Sephardic, outlining the special relationship between poet Garcia Lorca and his disciple, the actress Margarita Xirgu.
Travelling between Uruguay in 1969 and Spain in 1936, this tale found poetry in politics and vice-versa. Its ultimate and most powerful message was the importance of the passing down of culture through the generations.
Jessica Rivera gave a rich and generous portrayal of Margarita, working with the androgynous Lorca (a marvellously sinuous Kelley O'Connor) and eventually committing her knowledge and experience to her pupil Nuria (Leanne Kenneally) who will then transfer it on to the waiting chorus.
Director Sara Brodie adroitly wove the action around the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Most took place downstage in front of the orchestra, with some effective use of a higher platform under Tim Gruchy's spectacular video screens.
The women's chorus punctuated the narrative with an original Lorca ballad, and it was extraordinary to hear our own Chapman Tripp Chorus catch the tonal wildness that Golijov asks for. The visceral was an important element here, turning brutal when machine gun bullets penetrated an image of Lorca's writing and then sparked off a musical conflagration. Yet there was also tenderness, in Margarita and Lorca's lush Havana duet and in a later trio for the three women.
The NZSO was in good hands with Miguel Harth-Bedoya, a seasoned Golijov conductor.
The New Zealand festival is to be commended for showcasing a contemporary opera although it does seem strange that, after all the preparations involved, it was given just one performance.
Where and when: Michael Fowler Centre, Sunday